Friday, December 21, 2012

Diet sodas are safe for kids: Challenging conventional wisdom at the Coca-Cola Balanced Living Workshop

Listening and learning
It doesn't take a marketing background to understand that an event called the "Coca-Cola Balanced Living Workshop" might be designed to publicize the company's healthy living efforts and counteract the backlash against super-sized sugary sodas.

But while I do try to limit my and my family's consumption of full-calorie sodas, I'm no purist. I like Coke Zero, Cherry Coke (Zero and the regular stuff) and Honest Tea, and I've been known to let my kids enjoy the occasional Sprite or Sprite Zero when we're out to eat.

I attended the workshop with an open mind, ready to listen to the red, white and black-clad Coke employees share their point of view on high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and carbonation (apparently in some cultures it is blamed for cellulite) before we got to the good stuff-- one-on-one consultations with a dietitian and personal trainer and a workout session with Megan Fox's trainer, Harley Pasternak. Look for the smartwater product placement in his upcoming workouts on Xbox Kinect and Wii.

On the mats with Harley
Here's what surprised me: There's an abundance of research into the safety of all of the no-calorie sweeteners used by The Coca-Cola Company, but particularly aspartame, which the dietitians who spoke to us claimed was the most researched food ingredient on earth. According to the science, all are completely safe, even for children. The only concern parents should have with regard to artificially sweetened beverages is that they may end up taking the place of milk, which is important for kids' health.

I was also pleased to learn that The Coca-Cola Company has changed the offerings in their vending machines at schools. My elementary school had a Coke machine in the cafeteria (I still remember seeing the teachers grabbing a Tab before heading off to the teachers' lounge for a cigarette), but in 2006, Coke removed all full-calorie beverages from elementary schools. Today grammar school machines sell water, 8 oz juices (with no added sweeteners) and milk. Middle schools offer the same items at slightly larger sizes, and high schools add in no-calorie and low-calorie drinks. At least half of the available beverages in high schools are to be water, no-calorie, and low-calorie selections.
There was also some conversation about high fructose corn syrup and how it is nutritionally equivalent to cane sugar. But my issue with HFCS has less to do with its health implications and more to do with the evils associated with big corn and the risks of monoculture to our environment.

But enough about Coca-Cola. I also learned a few healthy living tips that had nothing to do with carbonated beverages and bottled teas. My dietitian advised me to drink a glass of chocolate milk immediately after my late evening workouts. She said it has the right refueling mix of protein and carbs  so I don't break down my muscles for energy. I had my first glass after roller derby last Thursday night, and it tasted good too.

She had another great suggestion for fitting in a little calorie-burning activity for those days when I am stuck at my desk from 9 to 5: drink a lot of water and walk 2-3 floors up to use the bathroom. It's genius, really!
Dinner at Boka was a treat
So, in addition to derby and climbing and tracking my weekday diet on a calorie-counting app, I'm drinking more water, wearing a pedometer (a freebie in my Coke goodie bag), taking the stairs more often and filling half my plate with veggies and fruits, as recommended by the USDA's sequel to the Food Pyramid, Choose My Plate. I'm hoping that by starting what could be New Year's resolutions early, I'll make them permanent habits.

I was compensated for my participation in Coca-Cola's Balanced Living Workshop, but my thoughts and views are my own.

All Photos are courtesy of The Coca-Cola Company and Bruce Powell Photography.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Friday, December 14th

Last Friday felt like the end of the world. I heard a bit of the news before heading to the gym for a lunchtime workout, but there, on the treadmill, I looked up and the CBS was reporting live from Connecticut. Even with the sound off, the horror and worry in the faces of parents as they raced to Sandy Hook Elementary School spoke volumes. Tears sprang to my eyes and I had to look away.

Like everyone else I know, I spent the afternoon clicking back and forth from my work to news websites, hungry for details and at the same time sickened by everything I'd read.

I could write more, about how all weekend I kept the news off, and struggled to find the right words to explain to my 3rd grader what had happened. I could talk about the petition I signed asking the White House to make gun control a priority. I could tell you why I refuse to be afraid to send my kids to elementary school. About how intellectually I know they're statistically more likely to die in a car accident, with Mom at the wheel, than as the victim of a shooting rampage; but the fact that there's a any chance of being gunned down in homeroom makes my blood boil.

But I'm not going to write about those things. Instead, I'm going to tell you that my neighbor had a baby girl on Friday, December 14th. Baby Claire came home on Sunday, and this evening Ada and I stopped by with a baby gift and a batch of chocolate chip cookies. We chatted for a few minutes, but the baby was nursing, their toddler son was finishing dinner and I didn't want to intrude. So I came home, bathed Ada and we snuggled on her bed with a new Ramona book.

"Look Mom, my toes," Ada said, spreading her toes apart like a monkey, "I can make my feet like Claire's. Only her feet are so small. So soft. So perfect."

Monday, December 10, 2012

From last to first: a lesson in determination

Zoe tied for first in the all-around in her age group at a gymnastics meet yesterday.

This is a big deal. It was just about a year ago that she participated in her very first meet. I still remember how pumped she was to participate. How much fun she had with her teammates. How big she smiled when her name was called during the award ceremony. And how crushed she was when she realized she had "won" last place in her age bracket.

Ten months later and Zoe has advanced from Level 3 to Level 4. She's on a huge team of 40 girls, aged 7 to 12, who practice 6 hours a week. She's been working so hard, determined to be her best. She isn't the most talented kid at the gym--not by a long shot--but she is dedicated and well-liked for her positive attitude.

That was good enough for us. All we wanted was for her to not be so distracted by our presence at the meet that she'd fall of the beam or backflip onto her head.

We were pleasantly surprised to see her scores--all 8s and 9s--and dumbfounded when she climbed onto the top of the awards podium.*

Of all of the parenting books and blogs I've read, one of the messages that's really stuck with me is that from The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. It's a book about raising self-reliant kids, and it stresses the importance of letting your kids struggle and even fail so that they can ultimately be successful. Zoe's experience with gymnastics is a reflection of this value and it's making me feel like a pretty good parent today.

*I was dumbfounded remotely as I had to leave to go co-host a clothing swap immediately after Zoe's last event. Josh did a great job of keeping me updated via text message.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

I can't eat like I used to, so I'm going to the Coca-Cola Balanced Living Workshop

My first climb, 2 months ago
You know how they say your metabolism slows down as you age?

It's true. As I've grown older, my palate has expanded dramatically (I love you sushi, olives, Korean food and hand-crafted cocktails!) while my metabolism has hit the brakes. I live in one of the country's best restaurant cities and with two school-aged kids, hiring a babysitter is no biggie. And yet, I can no longer indulge with abandon.

Yes, I've figured out how to dress to minimize my mummy tummy (wrap dresses and tunic tops are my friends) and I've learned why designer jeans are worth every pretty penny. But the ugly truth is if I'm going to stay the same size, I have to work out more and eat less than I did 10 years ago.

I came to this realization a couple of months ago. My recreational roller derby club reduced weekly practices from 2 nights a week to 1, and I immediately felt the difference 800 unburned calories makes. I started using a calorie counting app on my cell phone to track my food intake and exercise output, and boy is that ever depressing. On the days I couldn't hit the gym, I was lucky if I had 300 calories left before dinnertime! Of course, the upside of knowing exactly how much I'm eating and how little I'm moving is that I have been going to the gym at work a lot more often. I also joined a rock climbing class, which, like roller derby, I genuinely enjoy. I can't say the same for running stairs, Pilates, or doing planks.

I'm also being more thoughtful about the food choices I make, at least during the work week. I've swapped sandwich bread for bagel thins, I'm eating more protein at breakfast, and I'm only enjoying an evening adult drink if I have calories left for it.

And then I undo all my progress on the weekends and holidays. Ugh.

However, it appears help is on the horizon. I was selected to participate in a two-day Coca-Cola Balanced Living Workshop next week. There, I'll get to meet with a dietitian who can help me figure out a less haphazard system for losing a few pounds (and keeping them off) and attend cooking and fitness sessions, where I hope to find some new packable lunch ideas and discover some physical activities that I like as much as climbing and skating.

There's also a focus on family wellness, where no doubt I can feel proud of my gymnast kids' great physical shape and terrible about their horribly picky eating habits. Stay tuned for a full report.

I was compensated for my participation in Coca-Cola's Balanced Living Workshop, but my thoughts and views are my own.